NASCAR already trying to undermine IndyCar in Baltimore
While Baltimore gets all gussied up for its IndyCar debut on Labor Day weekend, the people who have turned NASCAR into America's favorite motorsport want you to know that they love Charm City, too.
That's why NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace was acting as an impromptu tour director on the Annapolitan II in the Inner Harbor on Tuesday morning, entertaining a boatload of racing fans with his North Carolina drawl and his admittedly limited knowledge of Baltimore and its history.
Well, they weren't all racing fans. There was also a large contingent of tourists from Boston, sweating through their Red Sox T-shirts and gloating over Monday night's 15-run onslaught at Camden Yards, but Wallace was just as nice to them. Apparently, there isn't anything NASCAR won't do to increase its fan base.
"Baltimore is an important market for us," said Dennis Bickmeier, the new president of the Richmond International Raceway. "This city is fifth in the number of [ticket] accounts with us, so we're trying to reach out to Baltimore."
Bickmeier, who was installed as RIR president just two weeks ago, said the timing of his fan foray into Baltimore on Tuesday was coincidental, but both Bickmeier and Wallace said they hope the upcoming IndyCar Series event on the streets around the Inner Harbor sparks more interest in racing in this part of the Mid-Atlantic region.
Specifically, they hope fans have so much fun that they want to make the 2½-hour drive down I-95 the following weekend for the Nationwide Series race on Sept. 9 and the Sprint Cup Series race on Sept. 10.
"I hope people come out and enjoy the IndyCar race,'' Wallace said. "It'll be something you haven't seen before. I think it [the Grand Prix] is going to give Baltimore, which is already a great sports town, a uniqueness it didn't have before."
We can only hope. The only thing the Grand Prix has done for Baltimore so far is tie up traffic downtown during the preparation of the 2.1-mile course, but race organizers project an immediate economic impact on the area upwards of $60 million and tout the long-term benefits of putting Baltimore on an international stage.
Meanwhile, the Richmond International Raceway has a new president who is hoping to take it in a new direction. To do that, Bickmeier feels that he needs to expand Richmond's NASCAR and Nationwide horizon.
"There's a core of passionate race fans in this area, whether it's NASCAR or open wheel,'' he said. "We're going to be very aggressive in this market. I think this is just the start."
Richmond is not an easy sell, since getting there from here on a Friday can be a challenge with the Washington traffic issues in between, but a lot of Baltimore race fans will make the trip for the doubleheader weekend in September. To get more for future events, Bickmeier knows that his No. 1 job as president will be to improve the racing experience.
"The goal is to go forward and not backward, that's for sure,'' he said. "We're competing against a lot of new [sports] venues. We want to improve our presence in this whole region. We've got to get more fans to the race track. Attendance has been down the last three or four years. We've got to take care of the fans we have and appeal to the next generation of fans."
There are all sorts of ways to do that. Bickmeier said he will focus on upgrading his facility and offering more race day amenities, but he went back to a very successful page in the NASCAR playbook to reach out to Baltimore race fans on Tuesday. He brought in a popular driver to charm Charm City, and Wallace did a pretty good job of selling Richmond International Raceway.
"The reason you want to go to Richmond?" he said. "It's the No. 1 most well-liked racetrack by the drivers. It's the ultimate short track. The race is right in your face. You'll see the sparks fly."
That's nice, but we've got our own little race coming up — right down Pratt Street — so we'll have to get back to you. Baltimore Sun
[Editor's Note: Haven't we seen this before - NASCAR trying to make sure IndyCar and ALMS races are undermined by sending drivers to the city to steal media attention or working the politic to try and kill the event?]